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O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy wrath: neither chasten me in Thy hot displeasure.
Great personal affliction
I. Elements of aggravation.
1. A dread of Divine displeasure (Psalms 38:1).
2. A crushing sense of sin (Psalms 38:4).
3. The desertion of professed friends (Psalms 38:11).
4. The assaults of enemies (Psalms 38:19-20).
II. Means of relief.
1. Remembrance of God’s cognizance of his sufferings (Psalms 38:9).
2. Power of self-control (Psalms 38:13).
3. Unbounded confidence in God (Psalms 38:15).
4. Penitential confession of sin (Psalms 38:18).
5. Importunate appeals to heaven. (Homilist.)
Things to be remembered
The title to this psalm is: “A psalm of David, to bring to remembrance.” This seems to teach us that good things need to be kept alive in our memories, that we should often sit down, look back, retrace, and turn over in our meditation things that are past, lest at any time we should let any good thing sink into oblivion.
I. Among the things that David brought to his own remembrance were his past trials and his past deliverances.
1. Such a remembrance will prevent your imagining that you have come into the land of ease and perfect rest.
2. They will refresh your memories with regard to the mercy of God, and so will stir you up to gratitude.
3. Such a remembrance will be of great service to you, if you are at this time enduring the like exercises. What God was, that He is. Having begun to deliver you, He will not afterwards forsake you.
II. The great point, however, in David’s psalm is to bring to remembrance the depravity of our nature. There perhaps is no psalm which more fully than this describes human nature as seen in the light which God the Holy Ghost casts upon it in the time when tie convinces us of sin. It is a spiritual leprosy, it is an inward disease which is here described, and David paints it to the very life, and he would have us recollect this. Child of God, let me bring to your remembrance the fact that you are by nature no better than the vilest of the vile. “Children of wrath even as others,” are you. Remember old John Bradford’s remark; whenever he saw a man go by his window to Tyburn to be hanged--and he lived at that time where he saw them all--“Ah!” said he, “there goes John Bradford if the grace of God had not prevented.”
III. third thing the psalm brings to our remembrance is our many enemies. David says that his enemies laid snares for him, and sought his hurt, and spoke mischievous things, and devised deceits all day long. “Well,” says one, “how was it that David had so many enemies? Must lie not have been imprudent and rash, or perhaps morose?” It does not appear so in ills life. He rather made enemies by his being scrupulously holy, because he loved the thing which is good. Now you must not suppose that because you seek to live in all peaceableness and righteousness, that therefore everybody will be peaceable towards you. “I come not to send peace upon earth, but a sword.” The ultimate result of the religion of Christ is to make peace everywhere, but the first result is to cause strife. When the light comes, it must contend with the darkness; when the truth comes, it must first combat error; and when the Gospel comes, it must meet with enemies; and the man who receives the Gospel will find that his foes shall be they of his own household.
IV. The psalm reminds us of our gracious God. Praise the grace that has held you till now. Keep in remembrance the patience of God in enduring with you, the power of God in restraining you, the love of God in instructing you, and the goodness of God in keeping you to this day. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thy hand presseth me sore.
Those arrows commonly are either wicked men or devils, whom God sendeth forth to afflict His own children, sharp as arrows, light and swift as arrows, and ready to do harm to God’s saints; or else sickness, poverty, infamy, and such other afflictions, whereby our most gracious Father thinketh most fit to subdue our vile corruption: all which, albeit in their own nature they are evil, yet God can convert and turn them to the utility and profit of His own children. As a physician can use the most poisionable and venomous herbs to cure the most desperate diseases; yea, the flesh of the dead serpent, to cure the wound gotten by the living serpent: so God can convert and turn the mischievous machinations of our enemies to our salvation. (A. Symson.)
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger.
--He proceedeth to exaggerate and amplify the greatness of his grief from the universality thereof; that his sickness was not laid on any one part of his body, but upon his whole flesh, and upon all his bones. His flesh is his exterior part, his bones his interior. Albeit the ulcers and wounds of his flesh were very sensible to him, and more horrible in the eyes of men who beheld them (as that of Job and Lazarus), which he might have apprehended deeply when as by them he was made contemptible in the eyes of men: yet his inward pain, which was more felt than seen, maketh him thus pitifully to cry. Wherein we have these things to consider.
1. That as all members agreed together to the performance of his filthy lust, so every one of them receiveth a deserved punishment. And it is good for man that he should be thus chastised in this world for a little time, rather than that he should be reserved for everlasting darkness, where every member shall receive eternal pain for their sin. For as sin pleaseth nature, so doth it destroy and consume nature.
2. He setteth forth the cause of those punishments, even God’s wrath, because of his sin. For when those two meet together, they are as fire and flax; God’s wrath as fire, will soon devour the stubble of our sins.
3. Observe that David maketh not God’s wrath the only cause of his miseries and heavy sickness; for that were to charge God of unrighteousness; but he justifieth God, when he acknowledgeth that his own sin was the cause of all his evils. And surely we can never give sufficient honour to God, except we free Him of all imputations of unjust dealing, and acknowledge ourselves to be the cause of our own miseries. (A. Symson.)
Mine iniquities are gone over my head.
Sins compared to deepening waters
He compareth his sins to waters which, albeit, at the first entrance they seem so shallow, that scarce they touch our ankles; yet the further we go into them, they prove the deeper, and soon pass from our knees to our shoulders, and over our head, and drown us, except God provide a remedy; as if a plank or board be cast unto one in danger of drowning, whereupon, taking hold, he may easily escape the danger; even so we go from sin to sin, and from less to greater, until that many sins meeting and concurring together overgo us: and we, filling the cup of our iniquity, be poisoned with the dregs thereof. Therefore, let us take heed, and turn back in time, lest going forward, contemning such warnings, we become self-murderers, murderers of our own selves. We have better waters, through which we may go in safety, the waters of Siloah, which run softly, by which we may refresh our own souls; the blessed blood of Jesus Christ; and the waters of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 47:12) which flow in the sanctuary, that we may grow from grace to grace, till we come to glory. (A. Symson.)
My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness.
Suffering for sin
I. David’s unhappy situation.
1. The pain and anguish he felt on account of sin (Job 20:12-14; Psalms 88:15).
2. Shame and self-abhorrence (Proverbs 13:5; Job 42:6).
3. Danger. Though the principle of spiritual life be not totally extinguished in a true believer, yet by the prevalence of particular corruptions it may be brought into a very languishing state, and sometimes it seems as if it were giving up the ghost (Revelation 3:2).
II. The cause to which his unhappy situation is attributed. “My foolishness.”
1. In sinning against God, he committed folly in Israel (1 Samuel 13:8; 2 Samuel 24:10). Sin must needs be folly, not only because it is contrary to the most sacred obligations, but because it is opposite to our best interests. Whatever injury we may thereby do to others, the greatest injury will be to ourselves. It is following after lying vanities, and forsaking our own mercies.
2. It was folly in David to persist in sin, after it was once committed.
3. His folly appeared in not confessing his sin, as the only means of obtaining effectual relief (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; Jeremiah 3:18; Psalms 32:5).
4. The principal part of David’s folly, and that for which he took blame to himself was, that he had so long neglected the remedy, after sin had been committed, and that he had not applied to that mercy which blots out all our transgressions. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I am troubled; I am bowed down greatly: I go mourning all the day long.
On religious despondency
Those who have lived without Christ and only unto themselves, whether in greater or less degree, are apt, when brought to serious spiritual concern, to fall into despondency.
I. To describe this despondency. They are under a delusion, they imagine all things are against them; they become restless, nervous, averse to all exertion; agitated in mind, neglect all duty; they sink into listless melancholy. And all this makes them worse. The worldly prescribe dissipation and amusement for them. They themselves attempt by austerities, or religious reading, to get relief. The Bible does not help them. They think themselves to be becoming more and more odious in the sight of God. Some try to turn them from all religious thought; others censure them severely. But all the while the soul only becomes confirmed in its distress,
II. Consider how a cure is to be wrought.
1. By seeing to it that repentance is real.
2. By assurance that God will have mercy upon him.
III. Hindrances to the reception of these truths.
1. Some urge that they have sinned beyond all hope of mercy.
2. Others think that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. But the very fact of their repentance disproves that, for repentance is the gift of the Holy Ghost. He, therefore, cannot have forsaken them.
3. Others despair because they have led others into sin. But so did Aaron, Manasseh, Paul, and in short all great sinners; but yet they found forgiveness.
4. Others conclude that as they have been so long time without comfort and peace, though sincere in seeking it, therefore it cannot be designed for them.
5. Yet others are darkened still more by erroneous doctrine. They deem themselves predestined to wrath.
IV. Practical suggestions to the desponding. Read the Bible as a whole. Regard your sins as reasons for humility and watchfulness, not as preventing forgiveness. If despondency recur, regard it as your trial and temptation, and resist it (Psalms 57:7-10). Take care of your bodily health. Keep calm and quiet. Be actively and usefully employed. (Thomas Gisborne, M. A.)
Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my groaning is not hid from Thee.
God’s knowledge of our desires
I. We have here A fact that is without exception. The Lord knows all our desires. How great, then, must God be, and how near such knowledge brings us to God.
II. The performance of as important duty. David was in the habit of prayer. He does not speak of his prayer as an unusual thing, or that should make men talk of him as eminently religious. Now, such habitual prayer is our duty. Do not restrain prayer, and remember, the groaning that is directed to God is very often effectual fervent prayer.
III. A state of hallowed privilege. If the text be true of us, then there is no need for anxiety. God will surely do what is best for me.
IV. A large provision of rest for the soul. How quiet a man may be, and ought to be, who can speak thus to God. It is the childlike converse of a man with his God.
V. A comfortable thought for seasons of weakness and discouragement. What a comfort it is to feel that God knows all, that He will accept as real prayer the utterance of a mere groan.
VI. It is also A plea is prayer. “I have told Thee all, now do as Thou hast said.” (Samuel Martin.)
Desires towards God
We would not pamper weakness till we seem to offer a premium to unbelief; but yet we would feed the feeble in the king’s meadows till they become strong in the Lord. If great efforts are put forth to build or endow a hospital, you do not say, “Sickness is a desirable thing, for all this money is spent upon comforting and helping those who feel it.” Your feelings are quite the contrary: though these sick folk become the object of care, it is not as a reward to them, but as an act of compassion towards them. Let none, therefore, say that the preacher encourages a low state of grace: he encourages it no more than the physician encourages disease when he tries by his care and skill to heal the sick.
I. Desires towards God should be made known to him.
1. Because our whole life ought to be transparent before God. What secrets can there be between a soul convinced of sin and a pardoning God.? Tell Him your fears for the past, your anxieties for the present, and your dreads for the future; tell Him your suspicions of yourself, and your trembling lest you should be deceived. Make all your heart known unto God, and keep back nothing, for much benefit will come to you from being honest with your best Friend.
2. Because it is commanded of God that, we should make our desires known to him. He says that “men ought always to pray and not to faint”; and again, “in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God.” Jesus said, “Watch and pray,” and His apostle said, “I will that men pray everywhere.” And what is this but to make your desires known to God?
3. It is a great benefit to a man to be able to express his desires, and this is an argument for making them known to God. A glance at some desires would seal their doom, for we should feel them to be unworthy to be presented before the Lord. ]Jut when it is a holy and pure desire, tell it, for it will relieve your heart, it will heighten your estimate of the blessing sought, it will bring you to think over the promises made to such desires, it will thereby strengthen your hope that your desire will be fulfilled, and enable you by faith to obtain it. The prayerful expression of one desire will often quicken further desires, and make a thousand of them where there was but one.
4. A gracious expression of desire before God will often be to you a proof that those desires are right. Thy desire must be a good thing, or thou wouldst not dare to make it known to God; and seeing that it is a good thing, take care thou nurture it well, and cause it to grow by expressing it with thy whole heart before God.
II. Desires towards God are gracious things. Intense groaning desires towards God are in themselves works of grace.
1. For certainly they are associated with other graces. When a man can say, “All my desire is towards God, and my heart groans after Him, and yet I find little in myself but these desires,” I think we can point to some other good things which are in his heart. Surely humility is apparent enough. Thou takes, a right view of thyself, O man of desires! A lowly esteem hast thou of thyself, and this is well. Aye, and there is faith in thee, for no man heartily desires to believe unless he doth in some measure already believe. There is a measure of believing in every true desire after believing. And thou hast love, too; I am sure of it. Did ever a man desire to love that which he did not love already? Thou hast already some drawings of thy heart Christwards, or else thou wouldst not cry to be more filled with it. He who loves most is the very man who most passionately desires to love more. I am sure, also, that thou hast some hope; for a man does not continue to groan out before his God, and to make his desire known, unless he has some hope that his desire will be satisfied, and that his grief will be assuaged. David lets out the secret of his own hope, for he says in the fifteenth verse, “In Thee, O Lord, do I hope.” You do not hope anywhere else, do you?
2. Another proof that they are gracious is that they come from God. Now, as God can say of all that He creates, “It is very good,” I come to the conclusion that these groaning desires after God are very good. They are not great, nor strong, but they are gracious. There is water in a drop as well as in the sea, there is life in a gnat as well as in an elephant, there is light in a beam as well as in the sun, and so is there grace in a desire as truly as in complete sanctification.
3. Holy desires are a great test of character: a test of eminent value. You inquire, “Can you judge a man’s character by his desires?” 1 answer, yes. I will give you the other side of the question that you may see our own side all the more clearly. You may certainly judge a bad man by his desires. Here is a man who desires to be a thief. Well, he is a thief in heart and spirit. Who would trust him in his house now that he knows that he groans to rob and steal? Let us, then, measure out justice in our own case by the rule which we allow towards others. If you have an earnest, agonizing desire towards that which is right, even though through the infirmity of the flesh and the corruption of your nature you do not reach to the height of your desire, yet that desire is a test of your character. The main set of the current determines its direction: the main bent of the desire is the test of the life.
III. Desires towards God are carefully observed by him. God has a quick eye to spy out anything that is good in His people; if there is but one speck of soundness, if there is a single mark of grace, if there is any remaining token of spiritual life, though it be only a faint desire, though it be only a dolorous groan, the Father sees it, and records it, casting the evil behind His back, and refusing to behold it.
IV. Earnest desires towards, God will be fulfilled.
1. These desires are of God’s creation, and you cannot imagine that God would create desires in us which He will not satisfy. Why, look even in nature, if He gives the beast hunger and thirst He provides for it the grass upon the mountains and the streams that flow among the valleys. If, then, He Himself has put in you a desire after Himself, He will give you Himself. If He has made you long after pardon, purity, eternal salvation, He means to give you these.
2. Remember, O desiring man, that already you have a blessing. When our Divine Master was on the mountain-side the benedictions which He pronounced were no word blessings, but they were full of weight and meaning, and among the rest of them is this--“Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Blessed while they hunger, blessed while they thirst. Yes, they are already blessed, and there is this at the back of it, “for they shall be filled.”
3. And we may be sure that God will hear the desires which He has Himself created, because He loves to gratify right desires. It is said of Him in nature, “Thou openest Thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” Doth God care for sparrows in the bush, for minnows in the brook, for midges in the air, for tiny things in a drop of stagnant water, and will He fail to satisfy the longings of His own children? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our groaning not hid from God
The wistful look of a dumb creature, or a moan of pain, is a prayer to a merciful man. Man deals tenderly with those who are robbed of the organs of expression. He watches with sedulous earnestness each faint indication of pain or need, that he may be ready with his ministry. Is the ear of God more dull, think you, than man’s, to these unutterable groanings; or is this human pity and sympathy the faint and finite image of an infinite pity and sympathy which are waiting to respond to us there? Pity which, great as may be the power of prayer which words can frame, finds in the longing that is too deep for words, the groaning that is too sad for tears, an appeal which is irresistible, and would even endure the sharpness of death rather than that such a suppliant should be sent empty away.
I. The efficacy of prayer.
1. It cleans and purifies the desires. The effort to utter them before God in prayer is a purification. Many a mixed desire which lies confusedly in the mind, filling it with distress, gets purified by the effort. The bringing it into God’s presence is like bringing a mass of rank vegetation into the sunlight. Leave it there awhile. The pure fire of God’s presence kills all that is noxious in the desire, all that is born of worldliness and lust.
II. The second clause opens a yet deeper depth. There are groanings which cannot become prayers, and “my groaning is not hid from they.” Would that I could pray! is the language, in moments of deep religious feeling, of many a vain, selfish, worldly, or lustful heart; I should feel then that the battle was really gained. There are times when the effort to pray seems almost impious. A kind of dull despair weighs on the spirit, and crushes down all its energies. “When I would do good, evil is present with me,” “O miserable man that I am.” What help can there be, what hope, for such an one as I? “Brethren, the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” But there is a mightier thing still; something that lodges a more resistless appeal in the very heart of the Divine compassion: it is the pain that cannot tell its misery in a prayer. It is a blessed thing for me that God heareth and answereth prayer; more blessed still, that “My groaning is not hid from Thee.” (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
They also that seek after my life lay snares for me.
When friends are slow in helping, foes are most busy
Our friends should blush, that the wicked are more instant against us, than they are to maintain us. But it is no wonder, since by nature men are more bent and prone to evil than to do good things. By constraint they do good, but willingly they commit evil.
1. Their profit and pastime was to undo me. The order is here inverted; for meditating properly precedeth speaking, and speaking doing; but in the words of the text it is otherways; their malice extendeth to the highest degree, they will not be contented to banish him, prison him, and revile him, nothing can satisfy their thirst but his blood. This is the envy of the serpent against the seed of the woman. The devil is a murderer, and so are his children.
2. The means which they used against him: their purposes, their words, and their actions. They meditated, they consulted; for wrongs done rashly are less dangerous, and more excusable, out of a spleen and choler; but advised evils are more fearful, and more hardly to be eschewed, laying the grounds and pillars of their proceedings upon some sure hold. But we have one advantage, that God is present in all their counsels, and cannot only reveal them, but also disappoint them.
3. Finally, those their meditations and communications, which proceeded from cruel hearts, burst forth in actions which were mixed with craft, and so much the more perilous, for they are said to lay snares for him: taking the metaphor from hunters, fowlers or fishers, whose trade is only to catch birds, beasts and fishes by their engines and policy, seeing hardly they can be taken otherways. (A. Symson.)
For in Thee, O Lord, do I hope.
You have heard, no doubt, of the great Grecian mechanician who once said, “If I had a lever long and strong enough, and a fulcrum on which to rest it, I could move the earth.” Such was the philosopher’s confidence in the power of the mechanical lever. There is in the world of mind and spirit a corresponding power which we call Hope. What can be stronger than this sacred, invisible influence? See that man yonder, going along with his head bent; when he speaks, there is no music in his voice, and no light in his eye. What is the cause? You reply, “Ah, that man has lost all his hope.” Remove this divine influence from us, and existence, to the poor, and sick, and disappointed, would be like an eternal night without a star. Hope is a Divinely-given grace to bear us heavenward, like the wings of a bird. And as a bird puts forth efforts to fly, so we should continually aspire to be better men and women than we are.
I. Hope inspires us to act as if we in reality could see and hear god speaking to us. When we read in the Gospel that God forgives sin, hope inspires us to believe that our Father has really forgiven us. The men on yonder ship which has sprung a leak, hoist a flag of distress, and while that steamer passes by they hope her captain will see their message and deliver them from peril and distress. So, with the same feeling, a man when in sorrow, or when he feels that without some great change taking place he will sink utterly in sin--that man goes into his room, shuts the door, kneels down, and lifts his flag of distress to God in the cry, “Lord, save me; I perish!” And as no humane sailor would pass by a ship which carries a flag of distress, neither will God pass by the cry of any man, or woman, or child, who calls upon Him in trouble.
II. God has given us the faculty of hope in order that it may prompt us to great actions. The prodigal of whom we read in the fifteenth chapter of Luke, was a very feeble creature. The parable is not told us to exalt the prodigal, but to show God’s love and forgiveness. But hope in his father’s love prompted him to arise and go to his father: it lifted him from hell to heaven. So, do not be afraid of the self-denial of becoming a Christian. You will suffer; it is not for me to deceive you. The man who will live a true Christian life does suffer. Ah, but there is a divine sweetness in it, such as never comes from sin. Let hope come into your breast. You can be sober; you can be self-denying; you can be truthful; you can be honest and manly in the highest sense of these words. Let hope in God’s Word encourage you to believe that you can do great and good actions.
III. There is hope in death. Have you this hope? If so, and your life is right with God and with man, you will be ready for death. (W. Birch.)
For I am ready to halt.
Resolution almost exhausted
We reach the “I will” by “I must” and “I ought.” Now, this struggle with self-will is like a man with narrow chest and feeble lungs walking in the teeth of a biting north-east wind; it is like a bare-footed girl treading a road made with rough stones and sharp flints; it is like a feeble man climbing a mountain by a rocky path beneath a noon-day sun; and under the exhaustion of resolution and courage and patience there be many that say, “I am ready to halt.” (Samuel Martin.)
I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.
Of confession of sin
I. What confession of sin is. It is a declaration of acknowledgment of some moral evil or fault to another.
II. How far confession of our sins is necessary.
1. It is a necessary part of repentance, that we should confess our sins to God, with a due sense of the evil of them (Proverbs 28:18; 1 John 1:9).
2. As for our confessing our sins to men, both Scripture and reason do, in some cases, recommend and enjoin it.
(1) In order to the obtaining of the prayers of good men for us (James 5:16).
(2) In order to the ease and satisfaction of our minds, and our being directed in our duty for the future.
(3) In case our sins have been public and scandalous, both reason and the practice of the Christian Church do require, that, when men have publicly offended, they should give public satisfaction and open testimony of their repentance. (J. Tillotson.)
Sorrow for sin
I. The nature of this passion. Sorrow is a trouble or disturbance of mind, occasioned by something that is evil, done or suffered by us, or which we are in danger of suffering, that tends greatly to our damage or mischief: so that to be sorry for a thing is nothing else but to be sensibly affected with the consideration of the evil of it, and of the mischief and inconvenience which is like to redound to us from it; which, if it be a moral evil, such as sin is, to be sorry for it, is to be troubled that we have done it, and to wish with all our hearts that we had been wiser, and had done otherwise; and if this sorrow be true and real, if it abide and stay upon us, it will produce a firm purpose and resolution in us, not to do the like for the future.
II. The reason and grounds of our sorrow for sin.
1. The great mischief that sin is like to bring upon us.
2. Another and better principle of sorrow for sin is ingenuity; because we are sensible that we have carried ourselves very unworthily towards God, and have been injurious to Him, who hath laid all possible obligations upon us.
III. The measure and degree of our sorrow for sin.
1. Sin being so great an evil in itself, and of so pernicious a consequence to us, it cannot be too much lamented and grieved for by us; and the more and greater our sins have been, and the longer we have continued and lived in them, they call for so much the greater sorrow, and deeper humiliation from us; for the reasoning of our Saviour, “She loved much, because much was forgiven her,” is proportionably true in this case--those who have sinned much, should sorrow the more.
2. If we would judge aright of the truth of our sorrow for sin, we must not measure it so much by the degrees of sensible trouble and affliction, as by the rational effects of it, which are hatred of sin, and a fixed purpose and resolution against it for the future.
IV. How far the outward expression of our inward grief by tears is necessary to a true repentance. The usual sign and outward expression of sorrow is tears; but these being not the substance of our duty, but an external testimony of it, which some tempers are more unapt to than others; we are much less to judge of the truth of our sorrow for sin by these, than by our inward sensible trouble and affliction of spirit. He that cannot weep like a child may resolve like a man, and that undoubtedly will find acceptance with God. Two persons walking together espy a serpent; the one shrieks and cries out at the sight of it, the other kills it: so it is in sorrow for sin; some express it by great lamentation and tears, and vehement transports of passions; others by greater and more real effects of hatred and detestation, by forsaking their sins, and by mortifying and subduing their lusts: but he that kills it does certainly best express his inward displeasure and enmity against it. The application shall be in two particulars--
1. By way of caution, and that against a double mistake about sorrow for sin.
(1) Some look upon trouble and sorrow for sin as the whole of repentance. If this were so, there would be store of penitents in hell; for there is the deepest and most intense sorrow, “weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
(2) Another mistake which men ought to be cautioned against in this matter is, of those who exact from themselves such a degree of sorrow for sin as ends in deep melancholy, as renders them unfit both for the duties of religion, and of their particular callings. The end of sorrow for sin is the forsaking of it and returning to our duty; but he that sorrows for sin, so as to unfit him for his duty, defeats his own design, and destroys the end he aims at.
2. The other part of the application of this discourse should be to stir up this affection of sorrow in us. If the holy men in Scripture, David, and Jeremiah, and St. Paul, were so deeply affected with the sins of others as to shed rivers of tears at the remembrance of them, how ought we to be touched with the sense of our own sins, who are equally concerned in the dishonour brought to God by them, and infinitely more in the danger they expose us to! Can we weep for our dead friends; and have we no sense of that heavy load of guilt, of that body of death which we carry about with us? Can we be sad and melancholy for temporal losses and sufferings, and “refuse to be comforted;” and is it no trouble to us to have lost heaven and happiness, and to be in continual danger of the intolerable sufferings and endless torments of another world? I shall only offer to your consideration the great benefit and advantage which will redound us from this godly sorrow; “it worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.” If we would thus “sow in tears,” we should “reap in joy.” (Samuel Martin.)
Hindrances to repentance
I. There are various ways, and there are many ways, in which men try to hide themselves from themselves; to escape their own detection; wilfully to evade their own nominal search.
(1) One of these is the sorcery of words. Men call sins, which they see others commit, by their true names; they call their own sins by false and glozing names. What is pride in others is in themselves proper spirit; what is slander in others is in themselves moral indignation; what is cheating in others is in themselves legitimate profit; what is in others an immoral acquiescence is in themselves a practical common sense; what is in others licence is in themselves Christian liberty.
(2) Men will hardly ever look at their own actual deeds in connection with their own true motives. They live two lives. One is their common, habitual round of conduct, which is often base, and mean, and unworthy. The other is their traditional and imaginative homage to righteousness, which is upright and respectable. Their lives are a stately temple front; its frieze is sculptured with heroic imagery; its entablature, like that of our Royal Exchange, is enriched with a pious inscription. Alas! alas I Enter beyond the vestibule, and in some inmost shrine, noiseless and far away, approached, it may be, only by secret stairs and half-hidden entrances--there, in little, mean, dark closets, so completely behind their ostensible lives and their expressed opinions, that they almost succeed in hiding it from themselves, all the bad, the impure, the dishonourable work of their lives is done!
(3) They freely condemn every other sin but the one to which they are themselves addicted.
(4) They find the sweet, soft pleadings of egotism and of self-love so irresistible, that anything seems to be at least excusable which results from yielding to such temptations. Religion appeals to the reason and to the spirit; it nerves and braces; it puts iron into our resolutions; it infuses the soul with manliness, and the will with strength. And, on the other hand, sins--the sins of the world, the flesh and the devil--degrade us into the animal: they unnerve, they effeminate, they debase, they paralyze; they bid us listen to the base pleadings of a “miserable, hungry, shivering self,” which is, like a crawling serpent, ever rustling amid the dead leaves of our weakened purposes, and ever hissing in our own ears: “Only this once.” “There is no harm in it.” “Thou shalt not surely die.” This is the explanation, and the only possible one, of the insane infatuation which so often marks either the whole lives or the sudden actions of many men.
2. What should be our protection against these specious thoughts of our own heart and our own counsel? God has not left you unshielded. He has assigned the soul of man to the special, immediate guardianship of two pure and strong holy spirits. The name of one of those great archangels of our being is Duty--Duty, that angel so stern and yet so beautiful! And the name of the other great archangel is Conscience--Conscience, “that aboriginal vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas,” with a voice now like the blast of a trumpet, now thrilling, and still, and small. (Dean Ferret.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 38". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25